An overall assessment of politics, administration, and governance from 1999 to date (two decades of democracy)
By Deji Adeniyi
In 1999, Nigeria winded down on fifteen years of military rule (Jan 1984- May 1999). For many, the outlook was bright as the last military regime of that era headed by General Abdulsalami Abubakar (June 1998 – May 1999), had displayed a commitment to return the country to the rule of law with the release of political prisoners, the drafting of a new constitution, allowing political associations to flourish freely rather than the “five leprous fingers of the same hand” political parties that had held sway under the late dictator, Sani Abacha. Following these actions by Gen. Abdulsalami, the gloom and the despair that had hung over the entire country slowly began to dissipate, and then disappeared.
Following an electoral process which, while flawed, was accepted by almost all involved,, a new breed of politicians emerged. The class of 1999 state governors had the likes of Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom); Donald Duke (Cross River); Uzor Orji Kalu (Abia); Peter Odili (Rivers); Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (Katsina); Olusegun Osoba (Ogun); Bola Tinubu (Lagos) and Rabiu Kwankwanso (Kano). The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) anchored the electoral process under the leadership of Justice Ephraim Ibukun Akpata (1927- 2000), who delivered a result that the vast majority of the country accepted.
The elected Head of the Republic was Olusegun Obasanjo. He had retired twenty years earlier as a four-star General of the Nigerian Army, after having ruled the country for forty-three months, and run the land transport infrastructure as Minister of Works for six months from January to June 1975, before becoming Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, which was the de facto number two man in the country.
In May 1999, there were no private universities in Nigeria. It was only in October of that same year that the new government approved the licensing of four private universities by the National Universities Commission. Today there are 75 licensed private universities and 90 public universities in the country. In spite of this increase and spread of the locations of these universities, the absorption rate is about 40% of eligible candidates on an annual basis. The linkage between industry needs and the higher educational institutions is weak. Research and development are not happening at a pace that the nation demands, and the crisis of funding which has lasted over four decades persists.
Unemployment is a significant challenge of this era as young people find it hard to secure employment. The gap between the educational curriculum and the needs of the job market are not aligned.
Our health infrastructure which had a peak performance fifty years ago with the University College Hospital, Ibadan ranking in the top three among Commonwealth countries’ tertiary healthcare facilities has declined with successive Presidents over the last ten years seeking medical care abroad.
No administration has revamped the architecture of the internal security system. The years of military dictatorship had deliberately weakened the Nigerian Police regarding funding and capacity building. The current zonal command structure of the Police was created in 1986 by the regime of Ibrahim Babangida. This structure is outdated and ill-equipped to ensure an optimal response to the security challenges currently confronting the country. Nigeria’s security system is clearly set up more for regime security, than the security of the people
Physical Infrastructure spanning roads, bridges, rail lines, airports are for the majorly, in a parlous state of repair. This has impacted negatively on the ease of doing business, with the net effect of repelling Foreign Direct Investment in a competitive global environment and tapping into the vast tourism potentials of the country.
The challenge of leadership in the next twenty years will be the provision of world-class infrastructure in the areas of health, education, land, air & rail transport and security innovatively and creatively. Job creation to mitigate a looming demographic crisis will also be a significant governance issue.
Agriculture, tourism, creative arts, entertainment, are sectors that the leadership must focus on regarding tax incentives, capacity building, ease of issuance of permits, scaling up support industries and protection of lives and property. Also, this will reduce our dependence on oil as a primary foreign exchange earner.
While the euphoria of the Not-too-young-to-run bill is yet to settle, it is important to note that the class of 1999 had the likes of Donald Duke, (38 in 1999); Bola Tinubu (47 in 1999); Rabiu Kwankwanso (43 in 1999); Boni Haruna (42 in 1999); Uzor Orji Kalu (39 in 1999) and other significant players. The real deal is for the beneficiaries of this bill to put their resources into politics and use technology, strategy and their youthful energy to swing power in their direction.
Editorial Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.